ROME — Italy’s government is set to propose a one-year moratorium on plans to introduce long-banned nuclear energy in the country following radiation leaks at Japan’s nuclear plant, a minister said yesterday.
Development minister Paolo Romani said he will propose the moratorium on studies for possible nuclear storage sites at a cabinet meeting today, the ANSA news agency reported.
Lawmakers opposed to nuclear energy said the move was designed to thwart a referendum set for later this year on the government’s nuclear plans. They said that by taking the issue off the political agenda for a year, Italians will not be as likely to vote against nuclear energy in the referendum.
In a 1987 referendum following the Chernobyl disaster, Italians overwhelmingly rejected nuclear power.
“They’re just looking to buy time, hoping that the waters clam so that they can regardless proceed with installing nuclear centers over a good part of Italian territory,’’ lawmaker Silvana Mura of the opposition Italy of Values party said in a statement.
The government began taking steps in November to introduce nuclear energy into the country, naming a board of directors to look at the issue. Premier Silvio Berlusconi wants production of nuclear power to reduce Italy’s energy-dependency on foreign nations.
Some 86 percent of Italy’s energy comes from outside the country, well above the EU average of 53 percent, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group that advises member countries on energy matters.
The nuclear crisis in Japan, however, has emboldened opponents and prompted even supporters to concede that there is a need for further reflection.
“Nuclear security is an enormous question that the whole world is discussing as a result of the Japanese situation,’’ ANSA quoted lower House speaker Gianfranco Fini as saying in welcoming the proposed moratorium.
A new poll suggests that skepticism over atomic power is growing in Sweden after Japan’s crisis.
A Synovate poll of 1,000 people showed 36 percent want to ditch nuclear power, up from 15 percent in a similar survey two years ago.
The poll, published yesterday in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, shows another 36 percent want to keep the plants operational and 21 percent want to build additional nuclear reactors. The remaining 7 percent were undecided or did not answer.
Sweden gets nearly half of its electricity from 10 nuclear reactors after abandoning plans to dismantle them by 2010.
Japan remains committed to nuclear power despite the crisis because the country needs non-polluting energy sources, the government’s nuclear safety spokesman said.
“While people may become more cautious, renewable energy alone isn’t sufficient, so nuclear power is essential,’’ Hidehiko Nishiyama, a director general at the trade ministry, said in an interview in Tokyo yesterday.